My lord, I am Gen Y too. I was one of the first folks to evangelize on the behalf of us and our potential on national stage, and to challenge nay-saying curmudgeons who had nothing but bad to say about us.
Folks have been flipping out about this blog post, because it suggests that folks from Gen Y are probably sort of unhappy because our neo-yuppie expectations don’t match up to particular realities. It speaks to a lot of the pre-recession conversation about Gen Y members of the workforce, and it speaks to a very particular segment of young Millennial professionals, but I see some truths in it. Critics of the piece make the very important point that the economy sucks, and that is actually what plays into general dissatisfaction. The amount of debt we are faced with taking on is absurd. Underemployment numbers are astronomical. And this is totally true.
Yes, the economy sucks, and that plays into why many of us find ourselves underwhelmed, but this system has long been becoming one that is materially unforgiving to most of those who operate within it. And all of this said, a bunch of us are still generally annoyingly incompetent, whiny, entitled and generally full of it. Maybe this is because we are all still pretty young, and perhaps it is more noticeable because this is a generation that only knows how to share everything with everyone, but it is an association I commonly make, and not because resentful older people informed my view of myself. These traits should not be tacked on to the generation as a generalization (and it should be underscored that the initial blog post in question addresses a very particular Millennial), but their prevalence is as noticeable as the many things that make us unique, compelling, and potentially triumphant. I know this because no matter how positively I speak to how dynamic our contributions are to society, to the world at large, I see evidence of this almost every day on social media, in casual interactions with friends and people I don’t know, at work, and everywhere I go. I have, of course, fit this bill and occasionally slip back into it, a number of my peers continue to fit this bill, and many of the people I have worked with fit it as well. We are still young, the youngest Millennials remain in their teens, and there is a chance we might just grow out of this, but these are traits that, for those of us to whom they apply, make us as weak and sluggish as do crappy economic circumstances.
The sense of entitlement that I see emitted from my fellow millennials has nothing to do with expectations of participating in a vibrant economy, of going to school debt free, of not being targets of government suspicion. These all are rational expectations, and these stifling realities should be fought against as such. We deserve a fair shot without being burdened right out the gate. What I am referring to is a very real increase of narcissism that messenger-shooting Millennial evangelists can be intellectually dishonest about acknowledging in their public narratives (in the same way, I should clarify, that the Millennial critics have been intellectually dishonest about the positive contributions of the generation in their own narratives). I refer to possessions of grand aspirations, but the lack of willingness to follow through. Our goals and expectations are admirably lofty, as our our expectations of success, but we can get tripped up in believing that we deserve the positive, unique outcomes we were promised. Our paths are disrupted when we are faced with having to reorient ourselves in a world that doesn’t see us as unique and special as many of us were indoctrinated to believe ourselves to be.
It is important to note that every American generation gives off its own air of entitlement in its own way. To acknowledge these tendencies, and the negative consequences of possessing them, is not to undermine the potential of this generation, or the many technological, philosophical, cultural and material contributions we will make. It is not to undermine everything we have going for us. Like every generation, ours is a pleasantly paradoxical one. These acknowledgements are important parts of the conversation. Maybe I am just rolling with very shallow circles, but if you don’t know a quantifiable collection peers who match these descriptions, or if you haven’t fallen into them yourself on the occasion, I feel like you aren’t paying attention. I get that we don’t want to hear this from people who are older than us. Who are they to talk, anyhow? Don’t they have too much of their own baggage in hand to be able to point a finger? Perhaps. But if we can’t look at ourselves and see both the good and the bad, we are not being honest with ourselves, and the world at large, about everything we have to offer. After all, I know more than a handful of Millennials fully aware and impacted by the horrors of this economy who suggested that some of the points in the much-criticized criticism of Millennials mentioned at the start of this post very much resonated with them.
Of course, I no longer try to make my living from being a Millennial / Gen Y evangelist, so I have nothing to lose from positing an abstract interpretation of how we are, and how we can be. I can’t, however, see the harm in acknowledging that we are, as has been every preceding generation, a mixed bag and we can be defined by layers of different characterizations. This is not an either/or scenario.